BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Brunei’s tourism sector must prepare for post-pandemic travel when borders reopen and the situation is “back to normal”, the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources said on Monday

Tourism service providers must continue to develop and improve the quality of products and services, YB Dato Hj Ali said during the COVID-19 press briefing.

He added that travel packages must be attractive for local and foreign tourists.

The minister further said Brunei’s tourism sector fared better than other countries last year despite travel restrictions imposed during the first COVID-19 wave.

YB Dato Hj Ali said restaurants were “full” and people were visiting local tourist attractions before the second wave hit.

Hotels also reported an occupancy rate of 30 percent last year, he said.

According to 2020 data from the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics, the hotel and restaurant sectors contracted 18.4 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

“If we look at the data, travel agents still make money. For hotels, the problem is the costs are high because they have a lot of staff.

“But for travel agents, they don’t have a lot of staff so they are quite okay,” the minister continued.

MPRT minister YB Dato Hj Ali Apong. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Tourism has been one of the hardest-hit industries amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourist arrivals declined 81.3 percent last year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Only 62,000 tourist arrivals were recorded in 2020, compared to 333,240 in 2019.

As Brunei’s borders have remained shut since March 24 last year, MPRT shifted its focus to domestic tourism to cushion the impact of the first COVID-19 wave.

However, Brunei’s tourism sector is not expected to rebound anytime soon as the country is still battling its worst COVID-19 outbreak.

Food security

Speaking on food security, YB Dato Ali said Brunei’s rice self-sufficiency stood at eight percent — missing the 11 percent target that was set last year.

Brunei’s largest commercial rice farm in Belait’s Kandol, which began operations in 2019, is expected to increase Brunei’s rice self-sufficiency to 15 percent by 2025.

“Phase one of the Kandol paid farm has been completed and another 145 hectares under phase two will be completed at the end of next year,” he said.

In the crop sector, the country reached 67 percent self-sufficiency in vegetables and 46 percent self-sufficiency in tropical fruits.

The pandemic has also disrupted the supply chain, including the import of livestock and meat amid a rise in domestic demand.

As of September this year, Brunei imported 13,091 cattle and 6,793 sheep from Australia, a 35 percent and 80 percent growth respectively from 2020.

This year also saw an increase in the amount of imported frozen beef and lamb from Australia with 628 metric tonnes (MT) compared to 332 MT in 2020.

Cattle pictured at the new PDS Abattoir feedlot in Kg Batang Mitus. Photo: Ain Bandial/ The Scoop

Brunei reached 100 percent self-sufficiency in broiler output and egg production last year.

The sultanate also hit 81 percent self-sufficiency in the fisheries sector.

YB Dato Hj Ali said small-scale fishermen contributed to 74 percent of self-sufficiency in the fisheries sector, while foreign investors were also involved in domestic fish production either by using fishing vessels or keeping fish in cages or ponds.

“For FDI investors, apart from meeting domestic needs, they are also focusing on the export market. Generally, production is still insufficient to meet the overall domestic demand,” he added.

He further said MPRT will continue to facilitate the import of fish from its neighbours, especially certain types of fish such as salmon.

Cross-border fish transport operators allowed entry thrice a week

Additional COVID-19 measures have been put in place for importers transporting agricultural and fish products across Brunei’s land borders.

Foreign transport operators who are bringing in fish into the country are only allowed to enter Brunei three times a week.

They will be accompanied by the Fisheries Department throughout their journey to unload the fish at Gadong Market.

“This is to ensure that food supply is not affected and at the same time, we are taking all precautionary measures,” he added.

Drivers must also undergo COVID-19 testing and wear personal protective equipment.